The students will work closely with Waitrose’s key fruit and vegetable suppliers, known as The Agronomy Group

Waitrose has teamed up with a number of academic institutions to lead research into food security and sustainability.

The supermarket will collaborate with universities including Lancaster, Warwick and Reading, as well as the agricultural research facility Rothamsted Research, to help educate 189 PhD students in agriculture and sustainable crop production alongside their academic development.

Soil health, bio-diversity, sustainable water use, the reduction of crop waste and the minimisation of chemical use during the cultivation of produce will be among the topics explored by the students, who will work closely with Waitrose’s key fruit and vegetable suppliers, known as The Agronomy Group.

With global population rise expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, the UK Agri-Tech strategy is calling for the adoption of new methods, systems and technologies to help UK agriculture increase production in a sustainable manner.

“Our evidence shows that there is a clear need to provide new thinking to address the challenges involved in delivering a more secure and sustainable food system,” said Waitrose technical manager for fresh produce Alan Wilson.

“This has the potential to really make a difference in changing how produce is cultivated in the future.”

Dr Rosemary Collier, director of Warwick’s Crop Centre in the School of Life Sciences, said: “This exciting new programme is an excellent opportunity for us all to work collaboratively with the Waitrose Agronomy Group and Waitrose suppliers in developing a cohort of graduate students who will make a difference to the fresh produce supply chain through their PhD research and who are capable of becoming future leaders in science, policy and business.”

The cash is share of a total of £18.9m awarded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, to support world-class industry-led doctoral training.

Dr Karen Lewis, BBSRC executive director, innovation and skills added: “Bioscience impacts on our lives in many ways. BBSRC strives to harness the power of bioscience to deliver a healthy, prosperous and sustainable future for the UK and beyond. To achieve this, we need to maintain our leading position in global bioscience by ensuring that the next generation of scientists have the best training and skills and Collaborative Training Partnerships will play a key role in achieving this.”